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He's Been The Dominant Broker In A Slice Of New York. Now He's Coming For Miami

Eric Benaim, the founder and CEO of New York-based Modern Spaces, first started coming to Miami in the 1990s when he would organize raves. Now, the man once nicknamed “the brokerage king of Queens” is looking to expand his real estate firm’s domain to South Florida. 

Eric Benaim founded Modern Spaces in 2008, which grew into a powerhouse in Long Island City.

After growing Modern Spaces into a dominant force in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City for more than a decade, Benaim told Bisnow in an interview this week that he has taken an interest in Wynwood, watching from afar as developers have been transforming the once-industrial neighborhood into a creative and trendy destination.

But last month, he planted his flag, paying $24M for three retail buildings in the neighborhood. He said that is only the starting gun of his push into Miami.

But unlike many of Benaim's New York counterparts coming south, he doesn't have near-term plans to start building. There are 6,000 residential units planned or under development in the area, by his count, and it isn't until those projects deliver that he said Wynwood will even approach its final form.  

“My gambling play is that, even though I have development rights of about 215K SF, I'm not looking to develop now at all,” he said. “When everybody else has developed and I'm like one of the last of the Mohicans over there, then maybe I could do something.”

The parcel Benaim purchased from Crunch Fitness founder Doug Levine consists of three adjacent retail buildings totaling 26K SF at 2324-2328 N. Miami Ave. and 38 NW 24th St. He bought the properties through his investment company, Benaim x Partners.

The purchase was part of a 1031 exchange after he sold 60K SF of land in Queens to Related Cos., Sterling Equities and NYCFC, the city’s Major League Soccer team, as part of their plan for a new stadium and master-planned community. 

The sale came as the winds have shifted in New York and it has become harder to own property as a midsized landlord, Benaim said.  

“Unless you're a big guy, it's really hard to manage properties, let alone try to maintain them,” he said. “It's just the laws for the little guy, unfortunately, have changed over here. At the same token, Miami has been very welcoming to investors or people like myself.” 

He is also in the planning stages on a Modern Spaces outpost in Miami, which would be the 100-person firm’s first office outside of New York. The firm, which has done more than $9B in deals since 2008, is looking to cater to the New York developers that are launching or considering projects in Miami, many of whom he has advised over more than two decades of consulting work in Long Island City.

“We’re in the thinking process of how to expand into Miami,” he said. “We do see an opportunity over there. There's a lot of great brokerages over there, but I do think there's an opportunity for a boutique New York brokerage.” 

Benaim's only near-term plan for the three storefronts he purchased for $24M is to add new exterior murals.

Benaim likened Wynwood to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and said it is in a similar transformation. But the neighborhood is already among the top-performing commercial real estate markets in South Florida. 

Wynwood and the Design District have an average retail asking rent of $81.53 per SF, nearly double Miami's average, according to Colliers, which combines the two neighborhoods. Class-A office rents in the same area are $80.84 per SF, nearly 35% above the Miami-Dade average, according to Cushman & Wakefield

The area is a magnet for firms looking for creative cachet. Sony Music signed a 45K SF lease there in October, and Monster Energy leased 8K SF in April as one of eight tenants that brought the recently renovated Sky Building to full occupancy. 

The only major change to the Wynwood property Benaim said he is planning is to commission artists to add new murals to the exterior. He has offered existing tenants lease extensions and said his goal is to keep his local small-business occupiers happy while he waits for the market to mature. Then, in a decade or so, he wants to redevelop the parcel.  

In the meantime, he is looking to buy other properties in the area, in part because he keeps hearing from hospitality connections in New York who want to join the wave of Miami expansions

“There are some places where I see empty retail [in Wynwood], and a lot of relationships I have in New York, a lot of these guys want to open up other restaurants and hospitality businesses out there,” he said, adding that he knew two hospitality owners from New York who were headed to Miami in June just to scout locations.

Benaim isn’t abandoning New York or Long Island City, a neighborhood where he said he has “arguably been involved in almost every single project.” But he is looking to diversify his business, returning to Miami decades after throwing raves, with a different outlook and perspective. 

“I'm 46 now and I'm trying to be less impulsive, especially when it comes to going to a different state,” he said.